In sharp contrast to his outstanding 2008 season, which saw Christian Vande Velde place fourth in the Tour de France and the overall title at the Tour of Missouri, this year has been marred by one debilitating crash after another. The mid-west native ensured fans that he is fully recovered and determined to finish off this season with a repeat victory in Missouri.
"It's very important to defend my title here and do a good showing for Garmin and myself in general," said Vande Velde, who was born and raised in the mid-western state of Illinois. "[Missouri] is my pseudo-hometown race, being close to here.
"It's been hard this year, I've crashed more times then I care too. I've been just keeping myself together with tape a glue at this point in time," he joked.
"It is an objective for us to do well in [Missouri]. Any time American riders come back to race here we always try to do our best. I've been training well at home to get prepared for this race."
Vande Velde recently crashed in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany on August 15 while his teammate Tyler Farrar went on to victory. The one-day classic was meant to prepare him for the Eneco Tour the following week, however, he pulled out of that event to avoid further injury and allow recovery time for the Tour of Missouri.
"I crashed there quite heavily with two laps to go and stopped," said Vande Velde. "I bruised my hip bad because my handlebars went into my hip. But the bruising just started to go down a couple of days ago. I feel recovered, I did a nice ride yesterday about five hours, so I feel like I'm coming around to do a good showing here in Missouri."
Vande Velde kicked off the '09 season in winning fashion with a solo victory in stage four of Paris-Nice in March. However, the initial signs that a tough-luck season would follow came soon after when he crashed, while in peak condition, during stage three of the Giro d'Italia in May. The team leader under went multiple examinations and doctors eventually confirmed he has fractured five vertebrae, his pelvis and one rib.
The injuries, though severe, did not put an end to his aspirations of bettering his performance over last year in the Tour de France held July. "I'm not going to lie, it's been a bittersweet season," said Vande Velde who went on to place eighth while displaying impressive teamwork Bradley Wiggins.
"I had great form in the Giro and that crash there put me back a long way," he continued. "To keep it in perspective I had a great Tour but as athletes we always wonder what we could have done if we hadn't crashed. I'm very happy about how the year went considering the hurdles I had to go over to even get to Monaco for the start of the Tour. It makes me that much happier about what I was able to do."
Now, he is back in Missouri and preparing to capture the overall victory that has eluded him this season. "The expectations are quite high for me as the defending champion," Vande Velde said. "Garmin are from Kansas City so they watch the race very closely and want us to do well there. It's my semi-home town race so of course you always want to do well in front of your family and friends."
Several key teammates are currently racing abroad at the Vuelta a Espana, which has weakened the squad somewhat.
"Last year we didn't have other distractions, but this year we have the Vuelta and we have a really strong team there too. So perhaps our Missouri line-up isn't as strong as last year with Tyler [Farrar] and Tom [Danielson] both in Spain, but nonetheless we'll have a great team and being an all-American team that's something to be proud of."
According to Vande Velde key rivals are Michael Rogers, Michael Barry, Marco Pinotti and Mark Cavendish all representing Columbia-HTC, and 2007 winner George Hincapie along with his soon-to-be teammate Tom Zirbel who is currently racing for the domestic Bissell Pro Cycling team. Despite tough opposition, Vande Velde is convinced that the overall will come down to the stage five time trial held in Sedalia on Friday.
"We hope that's the case," he said. "We are going to have to be aggressive and represented at the front during each stage. But, that's our plan to have it come down to the time trial. I think it suits Dave [Zabriskie] more than myself. I liked the old Branson time trial a lot so I'm bummed we don't have it, it was cool to have it because it was such an epic time trial. This year is flat and I think that suits Zabriskie to a T. It's going to be about saving himself going into Friday."
Vande Velde gave some further insight into how he predicts the race will be played out. "Last year it was one of the most aggressive races I did all year," he continued. "I think it will be more or less the same. I think we'll see a break going like the first year where George [Hincapie] was in a big break and gaining a ton of time. That and the time trial being later, we have four days of big stages for break to go up the road. The stages are a bit harder, it's kind of out of sight out of mind on these roads."
The Tour of Missouri will mark the final race of the year for Vande Velde and some well-earned rest is on the menu for his off-season. "Yes, this will be the last race of the year for me and that's a good thing," he said. "I'm proud of how I did this year after what was thrown at me. It's a little bit of a let down but I have to be content with what I did do."
"After Missouri I want to take some time out and make sure that I'm physically and mentally ready for next year."
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